Washington Prowler

Daschle to the Finish

What happens if you hold an economic summit and no one notices? Also: McKinney crossed up.

By 10.16.02

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HANG DOWN YOUR HEAD
TV networks have the Nielsen rating system. Politicians have their pollsters. Sometimes the two intersect. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle asked party pollsters to measure the impact his economic summit last week had on likely voters.

They got back to him earlier this week with the results: if Daschle's made-for-the-media summit were a primetime show, it would be canceled.

"It tanked," says a Democratic leadership staffer in the Senate. Polling indicated that the Democratic summit barely registered with voters, even though it was covered live and received play on the network nightly news. "The White House's economic summit [in Waco] might have been criticized a bit more by the media, but it got a lot more coverage overall, and Bush and Cheney got a lot of air time. It appeared they were more plugged in. Daschle's didn't register at all."

Under normal circumstances, a staged political event like Daschle's summit wouldn't be a big deal. But because Democrats believe the economy is pivotal to their success in next month's elections, the fact that one of their key events bottomed out is discouraging. "We're trying everything to shift the voters' focus away from war and terror and on to their wallets. It's not working as well as we'd like," says a Democratic pollster. "We should be kicking Republican ass all over the country and we're not."

It's not as if Republicans weren't on some level aware of that. Late last week, Republican National Committee pollster Matt Dowd circulated a memo to party officials and to Senate and House Republicans warning all not to underestimate the power of economic issues in the upcoming elections. "Voters are paying attention," says an RNC policy staffer. "They are aware of the economy. We can't act like it's not an issue."

Which is why President Bush is beating the economic drum so heavily in his campaign swings and will continue to do so up to November 5. Seeing that Democratic efforts to defeat the GOP with the economy haven't succeeded has allowed Bush to go on the offensive.

And just to make things a bit easier, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt unveiled his own economic plan for the nation. According to Gephardt, it includes revocation of some tax cuts made last year under the Bush plan, as well as short-term economic stimulus spending on school construction, anti-terrorism programs (Homeland Security) and health care; immediate portability of pensions; raising the minimum wage; and extending the unemployment benefit.

Gephardt claimed he was floating his plan before the press because Republicans in the House wouldn't meet with him to discuss it in private, or let him present it as a direct alternative to their economic proposals. And he claimed that this really was his plan. Never mind that his staff essentially took a memo on what Democrats should do on the economy mainly put together by the left-wing Economic Policy Institute, and slapped Gephardt's name on it. The EPI memo, which included repeal of the entire Bush tax cut, has been floating around Democratic offices in various forms for more than three months.

"It just confirms what we've been saying for months," says a Republican congressman. "The Democrats didn't have a plan. So they cribbed from someone else and passed it off as some kind of well-thought-out plan. They should be embarrassed."

COUNTED OUT
Perhaps it's been making life easier for outgoing Rep. Cynthia McKinney, believing that Republicans were responsible for her loss to Georgia judge Denise Majette in the Democratic primary. Initial reports from the Atlanta suburbs had indicated that Republican votes had swung the election away from the ultra-left-wing black congresswoman and into the hands of the more moderate Majette.

But now the flamboyant congresswoman doesn't even have that. Analysis of the votes in McKinney's district has revealed that she still would have lost (by a lot) even if no Republicans had voted in the Democratic primary. That kind of information wouldn't normally be a big deal, but it is for McKinney's supporters who have filed a federal lawsuit demanding that all Republican votes for Majette be disallowed.

The reason? McKinneyites claim that Republicans "took advantage" of Georgia's open primary system to vote for Majette. So much for voters' rights, eh Cynthia?

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